How Much Protein Does Your Child Need?
We all know that adequate protein intake is essential, both for adults and for kids. I have every reason to believe that my NYC pediatric dental parents make sure their children get enough protein. However, here’s the question: do you know how much protein your children actually need on a daily basis?
The messages we get from the media and at the grocery store suggest that we all need more protein. Have you noticed this? Protein bars, protein smoothies, protein powder, protein-enriched ice cream and even bottled water with added protein. This “protein push” can easily make parents wonder if their kiddos are getting enough, but how much is enough? And is there a problem with too much protein?
Kids Need Protein
We all need a certain amount of protein to build and repair muscles, bones, and teeth and to provide energy for growing bodies. In fact, protein is needed by every tissue, organ and cell. It may surprise you to learn, then, that there are side effects of too much protein.
Protein is not stored in the body, so excess protein will not make your child stronger or bigger. Too much protein is, in fact, broken down and the excess is stored in the body as fat. Yes, you read that correctly. Fat.
An article from Harvard Health published in May of 2018 discusses the problems that can occur from eating too much protein. While the article is focused on adult protein consumption, it’s obvious that children can also eat more protein than is needed, resulting in an increase in body fat. They also note that eating too much protein can increase the risk for cancer, kidney stones, kidney disease, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Less worrisome is the fact that too much protein can contribute to gut problems: both constipation and diarrhea, in some people, including children.
Why worry about these diseases, which are primarily affecting adults that eat too much protein? Because you, as parents, are teaching your child about nutrition with every meal. These habits will go with them into adulthood. So, how much protein is enough? Check out the graphic below from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Your children need, roughly, about .45 grams of protein per pound of body weight. A palm-sized serving of fish, poultry or meat is about 3 oz or 20 grams of protein.
The Bottom Line:
Parents need not obsess about meeting their child’s daily protein needs so long as reasonable amounts of protein is served (and eaten!) daily. Choosing real food over supplemented protein products will educate your children about food choices, resulting in healthy habits that last a lifetime.
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